EM Germany Weekly Round-Up | week ending 02/10/2014
Every weekend, EM Germany’s weekly round-up introduces the highlights of that week‘s European issues – a brief survey of the press, EM Germany’s activities and to supplement it a look at international discussions on Twitter.
EM Germany weekly round-up – the week’s highlights in print, at EM Germany and on Twitter
27/09-02/10/2014 – The EP hearings of the Commissioners-designate were a big talking point this week, also in German newspapers. The Handelsblatt called the hearings by MEPs on Tuesday “Europeans’ big test”. Particular attention was paid to the more exposed candidates, whose independence and competence is in doubt, such as the Spaniard Miguel Arias Cañete, the Swede Cecilia Malmström, the Hungarian Tibor Navracsics and the Brit Jonathan Hill. Cañete and Navracsics have been left to sweat for a bit longer (Stuttgarter Zeitung). The European Parliament’s decision to ask Hill to report back again next week was received in different ways. While the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) referred to countless critical questions put to the former bank lobbyist, and the Handelsblatt declared the reception as frosty, other papers perceived the hearing as lenient and the decision to call him back as surprising (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung – FAZ).
EM Germany President Dr. Rainer Wend also commented on the #EPHearings2014: the so-called grilling of the candidates – especially the recently strongly contested ones – by the European Parliament is an important democratic element of the EU system, he stated. Juncker’s “appointments that go against the grain” are supported by Wend. Controversial candidates could therefore be better integrated and checked up on. This role would be taken over by the high-profile new First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans.
An important point in the hearings was the EU’s free trade agreement with the USA. Cecilia Malmström, who as future trade Commissioner will be responsible for TTIP, had earlier caused confusion with her unclear statements on the controversial investor protection clause. In the hearings she in principal still did not rule out investor protection. During talks about TTIP, which have been going on since Monday, pressure from civil society is becoming clear. The Commission may now speak out against the courts of arbitration to mediate between states and investors. The Commission is aware that otherwise it would not get support from member states and in the European Parliament (FAZ). In the case of the EU’s trade agreement with Canada, CETA, which counts as a blue print for TTIP and whose negotiations were finalised last week, was headline news in Die Welt on Tuesday; a showdown between Berlin and Brussels is imminent. Background is Germany’s announcement that it will only ratify the trade agreement if the investor protection clause is axed. According to FAZ this is a triumph for opponents of free trade, whose anger has long been underestimated by the Commission.
European Movement International (EMI) finished its series of talks on TTIP with a “TTIP summit” in Brussels attended by top figures. Since the beginning of the year debates have taken place in cities including Warsaw, Berlin and Belgrade, in order to shine a light on the trade agreement from a civil society perspective.
In light of the continued criticism of Mario Draghi’s plans to buy up risky securities from banks, the Handelsblatt questions whether the ECB’s president has shot his bolt and has opted for the term ‘götterdämmerung’. Besides Germany, other countries such as Finland and the Netherlands also positioned themselves against the current ECB policy. According to SZ Draghi’s actions – lowering the base rate, cheap credit, buying up so-called ‘Asset Backed Securities’ – is geared towards devaluing the euro. This would accommodate countries like France, as it would reduce pressure to reform.
German newspapers commented on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s first election speech. In the speech he promised tax cuts, criticised the European Court of Human Rights and called for stricter immigration and border controls. The SZ regarded these statements as an attempt to appeal to voters on the right and to take the wind out of the UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) sails.
On a domestic level the issue of violent attacks by staff in refugee centres received great attention at the start of the week. Employees of a private security firm are said to have mistreated asylum seekers in several refugee centres in North Rhine-Westphalia. Countless papers seemed appalled that the care and protection of refugees was placed in the hands of security services, who did not impose requirements on its staff and chiefly had their sights on their own profit. (FAZ, Berliner Tageszeitung, SZ, Westdeutsche Zeitung). This week, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière also commented on the Europe-wide challenge of the growing number of refugees. Together with his counterparts from other EU countries, he called for better burden sharing in European asylum policy.
Defence Minister von der Leyen admitted that the Bundeswehr was only semi-operational and that German troops could not fulfil all their treaty obligations. Some newspapers criticised the lack of clear military policy for the Bundeswehr (Frankurter Rundschau). As a result of the armaments problems, another topic that was addressed was the demand for a stronger Europeanisation of German arms policy. Given the current threats and crises, it becomes clear that the EU should also cooperate more closely at military level (SZ, Freie Presse).
EM Germany continues to work on the implementation of its demands to develop European Public Diplomacy. In order to promote civil society networking and public relations, EM Germany’s website has now compiled country-specific pages. The first example of this was a page on Hungary, which went online this week, that gives an overview of europolitical news on Hungary and lists contact persons in that country.